Francis POULENC (1899 - 1963) Complete Chamber Music. Vol
Sonata for Violin &
Bagatelle in D Minor for Violin & Piano a
Sonata for Clarinet in B Flat & Piano b
Sonata for Piano & Cello d
Graf Mourja (vn); Alexandre
Tharaud (pno) a Ronald Van Spaendonck (clar); Alexandre Tharaud
(pno) b Alexandre Tharaud (pno); Francoise Groben (cello)
Recorded Paris. Between Oct
1995 & Oct 1997. DDD Naxos 8.553612 [56'06"]
The dates of these four works by Poulenc range from 1932 (the tiny
Bagatelle) to 1962 ( Clarinet Sonata ), and overall they give
a reasonable picture of his chamber music writing.
The composer himself made no secret of where his musical affections lay.
He was happy writing for piano and for wind instruments but not at ease when
it came to music for a single string instrument - although confident enough
with a body of strings. The Sonata for Violin and Piano we hear on the CD
was his third attempt at such a piece. The first (1919) he destroyed, the
second (1924) he would not allow to be played and eventually the Sonata was
completed in wartime (1942/43 with Ginette Neveu in mind). Even then Poulenc
was not happy with it calling it "an utter failure". He was less than fair
In its three movements much is typical Poulenc. The opening Allegro con
fuoco, less fiery than one would expect, has an attractive shared melody,
there are the merest hints of Spain in the slightly wistful
Intermezzo, then the final Presto brings back the tune again
from earlier, and - ushered in by heavy piano chords - the mournful tragico
section with its quirky end. Whatever reservations the composer had,
the writing shares the work-load around with no apparent problems. The clear
recording balance is generally fine, just now and then favouring the piano
too much. Fine playing throughout.
The first performance of Poulenc's Clarinet/Piano Sonata was by Benny Goodman
and Leonard Bernstein, no less. Its dedication was "To the memory of Arthur
Honegger" the first of Les Six to die and ironically it was one of
Poulenc's own last compositions. It is a strange work and rather compelling.
Much of the inventiveness the composer is known for appears and the mood
swings are quite striking even within movements. The opening movement marked
Allegro tristemente has three contrasting tempi and mood changes -
two allegrettos framing a trés calme passage. A darkly
contemplative Romanza middle movement leads into a sprightly ending.
No quibbles with the performance or the close recording.
The closing work, the Sonata for Piano & Cello, is the longest, the most
interesting and rewarding work on the disc - perhaps because the sound the
two instruments make together has more potential than, for instance, a clarinet
& piano. The catchy snatch of melody at the very outset, a vaguely Brahmsian
passage for the piano, the long melodic lines for the cello in the Cavatine,
the subtle inter-passing of phrases in the Ballabile, the imposing
"spooky" opening to the Finale and its range of tempo changes that
follow - all are specially noteworthy in this appealing work. Splendidly
played throughout with a fine recording.
There is nothing here that is over exposed or over recorded and at Naxos
price it is well worth investigating.